Kids Gardening Club Year Round Farm2Table Exploration

Progress report for YENC23-202

Project Type: Youth Educator
Funds awarded in 2023: $5,668.00
Projected End Date: 01/31/2025
Grant Recipient: Lodi Family Center
Region: North Central
State: Ohio
Project Manager:
Rebecca Rak
Lodi Family Center
Project Co-Managers:
Tracey George
Lodi Family Care Center
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Project Information


Lodi Family Center is located on the Medina, Wayne, Lorain, and Ashland County borders. Our targeted population has 53% poverty; 74% of families have experienced domestic violence; our schools are recovering from receivership; and 68% of families are single parents. Since the pandemic started, our pantry served 17,763 households. We have 80 volunteers actively engaged  in promoting the use of fresh produce from local farms in every meal. Our goal is to improve the health and wellness of our community by helping families overcome the barriers that keep them from incorporating fresh produce in their children's daily diets.

Project Objectives:

1. Introduce 100 youth to climate resilient, organic regenerative agriculture through hands-on work sessions that also explore cover crops, nutrient management and soil health. 

2. Introduce 40 youth to natural pollinators and beneficial insects while exploring natural role wetlands play in our area as well as how to improve water quality.

3. Increase by 200 the number of youth who participate in indoor and outdoor gardening opportunities while exploring the differences between commercial farming and family-operated farms as well as hydroponics, aeroponics, aquaponics, and soil-based indoor gardening options.

4. Increase by 40 the number of youth understanding of how wildlife preservation, renewable energy, and responsible gardening positively affects our community's and their families quality of life through a minimum of one field trip and 3 hands-on-projects with politicians, farmers, and local chefs.

5. Presentations of results of project completed through ongoing social media promotions as well as a minimum of 6 community events.

Educational & Outreach Activities

41 Tours
55 Other educational activities: Daily Kids Gardening activities offered during afterschool programs 2 times a week. Additionally, Summer STEAM Camp Agriculture, Gardening, & Hydroponics Club offered 4 times a week for 9 weeks. Local farmer oversaw and taught program.

Participation Summary:

1 Farmers/ranchers
229 Youth
93 Parents
2 Educators
Education/outreach description:

Two Open Houses were hosted between May and December 2023. A total of 41 tours were offered that included education regarding hydroponics and soil-based gardening. In June, we hosted "Dino Roar" Open House, who brought with them life-size baby dinosaurs (the T-Rex was 12 feet tall!). This was designed to introduce our summer STEAM Program and allowed families to enroll their children. This activity kicked off our Jurassic Week activities and spotlighted archeological dig where children excavated a baby dinosaur egg in the middle of our education garden. We also studied edible plants that we eat today that were present during prehistoric times. These plants were based on the research released by the University of Kansas in February 2023, which extended the record of nearly 40,000 species of flowering plants including modern-day staple crops like potatoes, coffee, tomatoes and mint, according to a news release by the University of Kansas. During the summer, we explored how hunter-gathering processes and demand for food drove the need to begin to manage crops (the start of agriculture about 10,000 years ago).  A total of 146 youth participated in the activities. 39 youth enrolled in our Agriculture, Gardening, & Hydroponics Club. 23 of these youth were invited to continue their programs after school in the fall.

To nurture excitement in gardening and agriculture, we offered weekly "Chopped Challenges": Kids provided a Fresh Produce Bar along with a "Mystery Box" item (ie assorted cubed cheeses, popcorn, etc.) and challenged to create a fun, healthy, appealing to the eye snack.  Judges criteria for scoring included "rainbow colors" of fruits/veggies used, how well child could explain nutrition component, if met food requirements (measurements of meal components), and if the child ate the snack. 

The Outdoor Kids Community Garden provided fresh veggies for most of the snacks and lunches served during the summer. Kids were challenged to try a variety of fruits and veggies. Farmer Kish helped with the program. Fresh produce the kids grew and ate together are:
Sweet corn, Colored glass corn
Sugar cane
Green beans, Purple beans, Yard long beans, Edamame
Zucchini, Eggplant, Summer squash
Watermelon, Pumpkin
Tomatoes -many varieties
Basil -many varieties, Cilantro, Parsley
Peppers, Hot Peppers, Onions, Cucumber
Radish, Red beets, Carrots, Potatoes,
Loofah gourds

Tea: 2 different mint, Chamomile,

Edible Flowers: Borage, Nasturtium

Youth participants were encouraged to expand their pallets by trying new foods that they themselves grew, cared for, and harvested.  Extra produce, 316 pounds in total, of herbs, veggies, teas, and fruits were harvested and donated to the pantry through the community garden. Our kids participated in the summer's USDA Cucumber Crunch as well as the Apple Crunch activities. 

Lodi Family Center has been notified that they are a USDA Gourd Level Winner (top level) for Farm to Table efforts. 

We are also awaiting notification regarding the 2023 Lettuce Turnip the Beet Gold competition, results to be announced February 5th, 2024.

Learning Outcomes

229 Youth reporting change in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness
Key changes:
  • How nature works in a garden and the importance of beneficial insects and pollinators

  • Production of food from seeds and proper care of plants to improve harvest

  • Increased self-confidence and believe in their own abilities

  • Improved communication and following directions

Results and discussion:

At the beginning of the grant, we introduced our first round of hydroponics growing projects. The youth learned how plants draw nutrients from water or the soil, growth stages and harvesting produce. They also explored how nature works in the garden and what they can do to help nurture and stimulate plant growth. Beneficial insects and pollinators versus pests were studied. 

Youth in this program were given the opportunity to plant seeds in both a hydroponic and outdoor soil-based environment. They journaled their discoveries. Many were hesitant to both grow vegetables that were foreign to them as well as try to eat them at first. In the end, all 39 youth participating for three months or more afterschool reported that they tried nearly all 29 varieties of produce, herb, and teas that they planted together. 

The two most prevalent areas of changes in attitudes included youth improving their communication as well as ability to follow directions. 93% also reported feeling more confident in their ability to complete the tasks necessary for nurturing a garden.  We also saw improvement in their school grades as well as a reduction in the number of times they made bad choices leading to discipline during the afterschool program at the center.

Project Outcomes

2 New working collaborations
Increased organizational support to explore and teach sustainable ag:
Explanation for change in organizational support to explore and teach sustainable ag:

National 4-H has hydroponics and gardening project books that we are now utilizing in the program. Frank Brothers Landscape Supply has also provided garden soil and mulch allowing us to expand our community gardens. This also allowed us to plant additional varieties of plants in the gardens.


This grant has really helped us develop a worthwhile sustainable gardening program. We have now found a curriculum through our National 4H partner that will help us help kids explore careers in agriculture! At first we were going to utilize a smaller classroom for the program. But Crop King recommended that we change rooms for a variety of reasons, the most important of which is that the originally selected room already had high humidity. When we finally identified and agreed with the landlord on a different room, we found that we are able to increase the number of hydroponic systems from what we originally requested.  While working with our insurance company, we learned that they needed everything bolted to the floor, ceiling and walls. Unfortunately, we need to walk completed around the crops to care for them.  Crop King worked with us to identify new units that will be on castors.  This allows us to unbolt the units from the walls and slide them forward to make room for us to pass between the wall and the plant rack to care for the plants. Then we simply move it back and put the bolts back in place.  These units just came available in January. We are awaiting approval for a reallocation that was submitted recently now that pricing is available. To help us still fulfill the grant requirements through this funding, Crop King generously donated NFT Desktops and another donor provided a rolling rack with grow lights.

The youth have really benefited from this project. We have seen a reduction in challenging behaviors as well as improvement in listening and following directions.  More importantly, we have seen an increase in youth partaking in the fresh produce bar during snack times. Some parents have even expressed their pleasure in how their children are not fighting them as much to eat fresh vegetables at home. One parent was absolutely shocked when her child at fresh broccoli!

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.